To those back in Britain enduring another 'beast from the east', it may seem like winter is neverending. But for England's cricketers, a long odyssey under the southern hemisphere sun has just one more stage to go.

Having beaten both Australia and New Zealand on their own turf in the one-dayers, England are now firm favourites to win next year's World Cup. Challenging for the number one spot in Tests, however, seems a rather more remote prospect after a 4-0 Ashes drubbing.

Indeed, having lost by the same score in India last winter after drawing the series in Bangladesh, the last time England fans were able to celebrate a Test series win overseas was two years ago in South Africa.

Given the reliance on a bowling attack whose strength is swing and seam rather than spin or raw pace, New Zealand in early autumn many be at least as helpful as a green-tinged wicket in Johannesburg. 

The two-match series may be one short of the three Tests normally played when England visit the Land of the Long White Cloud, but it will still be a fine trip off the field as well as on it. The attractive harbourside city of Auckland and the defiant Christchurch - where a city that has worked hard to rebuild since the 2011 earthquake will host England's Test side at the verdant Hagley Park for the first time - are always fine places to visit, and the welcome is always a warm one.

If Hagley Park provides a first of one kind for England, Eden Park in Auckland will offer another, as it stages New Zealand's inaugural day-night Test. How the pink ball will behave remains to be seen, but if conditions are similar to Edgbaston last summer, it could be great news for James Anderson, Stuart Broad and the returning Ben Stokes.

All eyes will be on Broad when he gets the ball in his hand. Having bowled Australian opener Cameron Bancroft for a duck in Sydney to secure his 399th Test wicket, he then toiled for a day and a half in a fruitless quest for his 400th. England fans in Auckland will be hoping they will soon acclaim it there.

Stokes will also command plenty of attention for rather different reasons. His return has been warmly welcomed by players and fans alike, and he will be particularly keen to perform well in the land of his birth after missing the Ashes.

New Zealand may provide favourable bowling conditions, but with Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor in the line-up, the Kiwis won't roll over. Moreover, England's own batting will be tested by the swing bowling skills of Trent Boult and Tim Southee.

For all that, England have not lost a Test series in New Zealand since the 1983-84 season, back in the days of Richard Hadlee and Martin Crowe. They escaped with a 0-0 draw last time when they were nine wickets down on the final day, but after all that grim toil on flat pitches in the Australian heat, this is a real opportunity for England to turn one of the most popular tours into a truly memorable one.



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